Apple Plots Theatrical Release of Films Prior to Apple TV Plus Streaming (Report)

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Janko Roettgers / Variety

Apple is looking to release original films in theaters — so they’ll be eligible for awards consideration — by putting them exclusively in theaters for several weeks before they hit its Apple TV Plus streaming service, according to a new report.

The tech giant has recently made “overtures” to cinema chains about the plans, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, citing anonymous sources. The Journal didn’t identify which exhibitors Apple has reached out to.

Apple’s theatrical-release plans aren’t surprising, as the move is designed to put films in contention for Hollywood laurels. Under the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ most recent rules, for example, in order for films to be eligible for Oscars consideration they must run in qualifying theaters (including in a theater in Los Angeles County) for at least seven consecutive days, with at least three showings daily. By consulting with theater owners and giving its movies an exclusive theatrical window, Apple is hoping to avoid angering exhibitors the way Netflix did with its initial blanket refusal to back off day-and-date release for films in theaters and streaming, the Journal noted.

Apple, under the leadership of entertainment co-chiefs Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, has focused its original entertainment slate on TV series but has picked up some film projects along the way.

Earlier this year, Apple and A24 announced a co-production for Sofia Coppola’s “On the Rocks,” for which she is reteaming with her “Lost in Translation” star Bill Murray alongside Rashida Jones. Apple is looking at a mid-2020 release for “On the Rock,” per the WSJ report. Last year, Apple acquired global rights to feature documentary “The Elephant Queen,” from filmmakers Mark Deeble and Victoria Stone, about a pachyderm matriarch’s inspiring epic journey to lead her family across Africa.

According to the Journal report, Apple has enlisted former Imax head of entertainment Greg Foster, who exited Imax last fall after 18 years, as a consultant for its theatrical-release strategy.

Apple TV Plus is set to launch Nov. 1 worldwide, priced at $4.99 monthly in the U.S. — but the service will be free for a year to customers who purchase an Apple device.

Netflix and Amazon have also adopted a strategy of limited theatrical film releases to qualify for awards, though Amazon has generally taken a more industry-friendly approach.

Netflix’s original films “may have a qualifying run for theatrical, but it’s fairly small,” CEO Reed Hastings said at the Royal Television Society conference last week in Cambridge, England. The company previously has launched limited theatrical releases of select films, including Oscar-winner “Roma” from Alfonso Cuarón. This summer, Netflix announced plans for a limited theatrical release of Martin Scorsese’s crime drama “The Irishman” on Nov. 1 before launching on the streaming service on Nov. 27.

Amazon Studios’ “Late Night,” the dramedy film starring Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson, garnered $15.5 million at the domestic box office this summer, per Box Office Mojo. Amazon Studios boss Jennifer Salke insisted that the movie wasn’t a bust and claimed it was watched on Prime Video within its first two weeks on streaming by more people than any film in the U.S.

“We don’t pretend to think we would suddenly have 30 million people watching our movie in a theater,” Salke said, speaking Thursday evening at the Paley Center for Media. Theatrical release, she said, is “just a portion of what our strategy is.”